Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wood & Fraher's Texas Zydeco Excellent Book On Creole Music

If you are looking for a holiday present for the blues and/or zydeco fan, then the superb, Texas Zydeco is a book that should be considered. It combines authoritative writing with some beautiful photography.

Texas Zydeco
by Roger Wood & James Fraher (photographer)
University of Texas 2006

Zydeco music is usually associated with Louisiana, but historically Texas, and especially the city of Houston has been central to the growth and development of the idiom from the more traditional la la music of the creole population that is concentrated in southwestern Louisiana and neighboring portions of Texas that include House. The place of Texas in the rise and evolution of zydeco is the subject of Texas Zydeco, the latest collaboration between writer Roger Woof and photographer James Fraher, who previously collaborated in Down in Houston: Blues in Bayou City, the superb book on Houston’s blues scene.

Like the previous volume on Houston Blues, Wood does more than simply provide sketches of the history of the music. He takes us into the world of the zydeco as his first chapter introduces us to the various venues for zydeco and the audience and musicians there ranging from the clubs and church dances to the all day festivals at a rodeo arena. The history of the music as it was transformed from la la to zydeco and some of the pioneering figures and recordings are presented and the fact that some of the recordings were made in Houston including a rare Lightnin’ Hopkins recording on organ, Zologo. Folklorist Mack McCormick was responsible for the spelling of zydeco, but it was not until a Clifton Chenier recording used that spelling, that this spelling received the credibility until it became the established way to spell the term

A chapter is devoted to Chenier and his influence. Chenier’s mix of traditional creole music with rhythm and blues as well as his use of the piano accordion led to the emergence of zydeco as a musical genre and through interviews with some of Clifton’s contemporaries as well as some of the musicians who played with him, including his son C.J, and guitarists Philip Walker and Sherman Washington who recall their experiences with Clifton and how he was a mentor to them which they recognize even today the value of his lessons for them. Clifton was a remarkable person. Chenier invented the frottoir (rubboard) which replaced the washboards that had been used previously, having the first frottoirs fabricated and Wood spends some pages with the individuals that crafted these instruments for use.

Another chapter discusses some of the post-Chenier performers in the world of Texas zydeco, noting that many, but not all, have adopted the button accordion as opposed to the chromatic piano accordion, and provides an overview of these new breed performers including Corey Ledet, Dora and the Zydeco Bad Boyz, J. Paul and Skip Riteau, and in showing their individual maturation as artists how Texas remains a fertile ground for zydeco to continue to evolve.

James Fraher, certainly one of the most outstanding blues photographers alive, contributes some stunning photography. It is unfortunate that Wood and Fraher did not include some actual photographs of Chenier and other masters that Fraher never was able to document, as a photograph of a old Zodico poster for Chenier is not quite the same thing. But this is only a quibble as this book brings the world of zydeco, not simply reciting the lives of major figures, and joins Down in Houston as an important and engrossing book on African-American vernacular music traditions.

This review originally appeared in the November/December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 288). I likely received a review copy from the publisher.

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